From menudo.uh.edu!swrinde!elroy.jpl.nasa.gov!usc!howland.reston.ans.net!agate!library.ucla.edu!whirlwind!ucla-cs!ucla-ma!julia!dmac Wed Feb  9 10:20:02 GMT-0600 1994



 Seeing is believing: 9 February 1964

Seeing is believing: 9 February 1964

Sender: news@math.ucla.edu

You'd almost rather not be reminded.

It's not that commemoration per se is irksome. We are a species rich in ritual; we are compelled toward compulsiveness. Innate liturgical elements of life find full flower in the serious side of humankind: its religion, its etiquette, its corporate niceties.

You know how to behave. You've had lessons.

Less "serious" are the subrealms of mainstream culture, where we may still be loath, after all these years, to celebrate what really matters to us. Cynicism is unleashed by the fear of being found tender. You think it's the product of a jaded soul. You've spent too many years juggling impenetrable complexities and relentless games of life's soi-disant "adult" realities.

And sometimes the passage of time can generate the illusion of triviality, even on a day you know is sacred.

You might wonder now if you *were* a fool, the subject of a hollow hoax perpetrated by the press, by promotion. A man who should know, after all, *said* that nothing was real. Maybe it wasn't. Maybe you were carried away. A portion of your being scoffs now at the ardent screams of young people, whose ardor, you muse, could have been better spent in some other fashion...but you're not sure what, exactly. After all, you're culpable too. Once, your heart beat in time with theirs, three decades ago. Perhaps it still does, though no one would know it now to look at you. It is now, as it was then, a fearsome thing to show the world what you're feeling.

The young gentlemen at the heart of this vociferation, to look at ancient footage, seemed to be cooly in their element. How odd, since it couldn't have been more foreign. Certainly, they'd conquered hearts before, just as rock-and-roll's Muse had once held *them* in thrall. Britain had fallen helpless the previous year, a country with a riotous wish to surrender at last to its own musical kinsmen. These singers had seen it all happen around them, and once done, had moved onto continental shores to sweetly ravage the bastions of Euro-pop.

Their own cynical facades aside, the men in question, the foursome at the core, felt an inarticulate fear about America, the place where their musical strategies had been born, the origin of much of their own inspiration. One of their camp knew, from firsthand experience, that it was a singularly desperate field for British pop-meisters. Young George Harrison, just twenty, had been there the autumn before in the enfolding arms of family, and with his brother had sought the merest hint of his group's influence in record shops. Three number one records to their name in their homeland, one hit LP, and not a sign of the Beatles anywhere in the bins. Journalist Hunter Davies noted that George was struck with horror to see a Cliff Richard film relegated to second-rung at an American drive-in theater. This was how the English were treated! This was their fate!

You see their apparent nonchalance in newsreels, their riposting irreverence, and you might be inclined to agree with the pundits whose own cynicism was impenetrable. Paar's response was wry; Brinkley refused to air their footage, dismissing them with a facetious remark. Life and Look, Time and Newsweek, even the New York Times compared them to fads of the past. Over the years you too have seen too much, have viewed a surfeit of silliness and horror in a meld of prime-time misinformation. It's tougher than it ever was to home in on the truth---either what it was then or what it is now.

It's tough, too, when some people (especially some *younger* than you!) seem so out of touch. Well, give 'em credit for knowing it's an anniversary, at least. Twentieth, twenty-fifth... hell, it's a complicated world. And it's more complex for its continuity, for its sameness, its predictability. Revolution is passe. Some think it never happened. We wait for younger compatriots to catch fire, the way we once burned with similar visions of revolt---the legacies we thought we learned in a decade whose hallmark was change. But does anything change? Do we know when it's a dream?

People plugged into the message of the Fabs, whether young or old, know what change is, of course. And you needn't have actually been there to get the message; it's part of the music. The songs map it out for all who listen, no matter what their age.

A wise gent from Australia, who himself was not there for the initial wave of portentous polyphony, recently suggested to me that what characterized the Beatles was not their pop-iconographic sameness but their ability to artistically transform themselves. They cosseted no compulsion toward musical niceties, beyond being professionally polite to those who had not yet caught up to their musical reformation. Hence the vertigo of their first days here. We were being borne away in a new direction, without being able to trace the path for ourselves.

We could see them, at last; they were visual markers of a new era. That was part of the shock of it. The music alone was substance enough! EMI and Capitol might just as well have sat still; we needed no simplistic promotional gimmicks to fuel our fascination. But coupled with the kinetic picture, it was as if sight itself was enhanced, elevated somehow---a veritable electric charge to the eyes, a multidimensional vision.

Sure, we'd seen girls scream, rapturous before their idols. We'd seen similar campaigns machined by musical industry. Even Mr. Sullivan had played his part in the past---curious, rather than eager, to display oddities of pop-music's realm to middle America: Elvis, Buddy.... The difference here was that, unbeknownst to Ed and his hangers-on, the nation would be swept by more than the music, more than the hair, more than the novelty of mere fad. This was not a fad. This was a culture's transmutation. Within a few years it had leapt over teendom; it spanned generations. It still does.

You could see it on national television---a subtle metathesis of society's language. Within the first few minutes of that show, America's anachronistic talents were turned to babble.

Strange, too, because these British moptops were not in their best-ever voice; arguably they had played more articulately on record. Here it seemed their erstwhile propensity to "mak schau" was subsumed with only minimal hints of the passion within.

But some new voice came forth, blending harmonies at once alien and familiar. Did it register in your heart? Did your senses quicken? Do you gasp, even now, at the profundity of their power?

It's a wonder that any act could follow them. It's debatable whether they did, in the classic sense. The prim constructs of show-tunes; the desperate shrillness of mainstream comics; a magician whose stilted illusions bespoke another era; a battle-weary relic of music hall; acrobats presenting a tumbling act of bone-chilling inanity...all peppered with the really important messages of life, like whiter clothes, blacker shoes, and flakier pastry.

But when the hour was up, you couldn't even gaze at the world with the same eyes. Your eyes worked differently. You breathed metamorphic air. Best of all, you could hear echoes of their voices all throughout your dreams, no matter how cynical you thought yourself before. And in some deep recess, you realized that you had given up some impenetrable musical predictability in exchange for the pressure of a new hand on yours, a love affair with a syncopated sirocco which promised new melodic crescendos to come.

I think that's why this date is dear to us---those of us who took almost too long to convince, who were nearly left in the dust and debris of our indigenous chartbusters, while England and Europe and Australia already knew what course to chart in order to reach the mellifluent phenomenon of a lifetime.

Can you still reach its magic?

Is there a song you can play---on whatever technological implement you have handy---to recapture what you once heard? Mono, stereo... even the music playing in your head will do. Grant yourself a moment to feel it now as you felt it then.

Being chronologically too young for it all is no handicap. You shared the same place with first generation fans the moment you heard a song by that selfsame foursome and felt your world pitch forward into a new orbit.

For me, their music struck home the instant I heard it, more than a month before I saw them move in real time. But within the first few seconds of sight, I gave my soul over to them as well---not just to them but to the sound they created, the legacy they promised---the songs which still delight, the images which still thrill---and buried in the mix, to the promise of our collective journey to come.

Did I really *give* something, though? Or was that illusory too? It seems even now that what they returned to me was more than the worth of my soul.

It included the benefit of their own inner light.

And by its inextinguishable illumination, I can still see more than I ever could without them.

--


"But how their bewitched and bedazzled fans love it...."

saki (dmac@math.ucla.edu ) Click here to return to the rmb home page.

Click here to return to saki's index.